A Doctor-Patient Relationship Inspires an Innovative Initiative
The Thurston Arthritis Research Center (TARC) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced that a new program designed to advance understanding of lupus and Sjögren’s syndrome will be headed by Saira Sheikh, MD, rheumatologist and allergist/immunologist, assistant professor of medicine, and director of the Lupus Clinic and Clinical Trials Program at UNC TARC. The initiative was made possible by a generous seven-figure philanthropic gift from one of Dr. Sheikh’s exceptionally grateful patients.
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Explore This IssueMay 2019
“I am incredibly thankful to Linda and Cecil Sewell, and to our leadership, who share my vision for a program that has potential for tremendous impact,” says Dr. Sheikh of the venture. “We aspire to develop a platform for ideas—a community of physicians, researchers, scientists and patients working closely to provide healing and hope.”
The first area of focus is the UNC Lupus Brain Initiative. Dr. Sheikh is collaborating with neuroscientist Flavio Fröhlich, PhD, to understand the symptoms of brain fog and cognitive decline in patients. They are leveraging expertise at UNC to investigate the neural basis of behavior through the interdisciplinary study of network dynamics using electrophysiology, brain stimulation and behavioral assays.
Dr. Sheikh is working with a biotech company on NIH-funded translational projects, aimed at developing an epigenetic histone peptide microarray platform as a diagnostic and prognostic tool for autoimmune diseases. She maintains a busy clinical practice, caring for patients from all 100 North Carolina counties and from across the Southeastern U.S. She is leading national initiatives to develop real-world, practical models to promote inclusion of minority patients in lupus clinical trials, particularly using technology-based applications.
Nashville Pediatrician Selected for 2018 Excellence in Vasculitis Diagnosis Award
Linda Brady, MD, a pediatrician with Old Harding Pediatric Associates, Vanderbilt University Medical Center/Monroe Carrell Jr. Children’s Hospital, Nashville, was selected as the recipient of the 2018 Excellence in Diagnosis (V-RED) Award by the Vasculitis Foundation. The award is presented annually to a medical professional who makes a timely diagnosis of vasculitis.
Dr. Brady was nominated for the award by Lisa Crabb, whose 16-year-old son Chip was diagnosed with granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA), which is rare in young people. Ms. Crabb believes Dr. Brady’s tenacity in pursuing a diagnosis made the difference in outcome for Chip, who is doing well.
In August 2017, Chip began having symptoms that seemed typical of a respiratory illness. When his symptoms persisted, Ms. Crabb sought the advice of Dr. Brady, who had been Chip’s pediatrician since he was 5 years old. Suspecting a sinus infection, Dr. Brady first prescribed antibiotics. However, his symptoms worsened, so Dr. Brady conducted additional tests. A hearing test revealed he had lost a significant amount of his hearing; but referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist did not yield a definitive cause.
Dr. Brady then sent Chip for a chest X-ray, and the atypical findings prompted her to refer him to pulmonary specialists at Vanderbilt, where she is an adjunct faculty member. By this time, Ms. Crabb recalls, Chip’s symptoms were affecting his lungs, his hearing and his stamina. “He came home from school at night and fell exhausted into bed, and then he started having night sweats,” she recalls.
Chip was then referred to a rheumatologist where blood tests revealed he had GPA vasculitis. The diagnosis of GPA was “a lot to take in,” says Ms. Crabb. Early connection with the Vasculitis Foundation and clear, accessible patient education made a big difference for the family. Obtaining the right treatment for Chip made it possible for him to resume his school and band activities. Ms. Crabb is also grateful the family’s proximity to, and Dr. Brady’s affiliation with, Vanderbilt afforded them quick access to specialists there.
Brent Graham, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and director of the Division of Rheumatology at Vanderbilt, concurs that Dr. Brady’s persistence led to the correct diagnosis. “She recognized the lung findings were atypical for an infectious process in appearance, as well as their persistence. She also recognized the potential multisystem nature of his disease, with rash and lower extremity pain,” he says.
A serendipitous connection with the University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill. Ms. Crabb notes that her husband, Trey, received his master’s degrees at UNC, and their daughter is now an undergraduate pursuing medical studies there. This connection added another specialist to Chip’s ongoing care team: Eveline Wu, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at UNC Children’s Hospital. Dr. Wu is part of a specialized group that works closely with the study of GPA/vasculitis and regularly checks in with Chip and his family. Chip undergoes monthly blood tests and quarterly check-ins with his care team at Vanderbilt.
Ms. Crabb learned of the V-RED award through the Vasculitis Foundation newsletter. She hopes the award will encourage other primary care physicians “to push forward with additional testing when their instincts tell them something is seriously wrong.”